Dashi is a basic stock used in Japanese cooking. Dried seaweed (kombu) and thin shavings of dried tuna (bonito) are the 2 most common and basic of ingredients that goes into making this flavourful liquid base. Dashi can also be made from other ingredients – sardines, dried mushrooms. The use of dashi extends beyond soups. It can be used in hotpots, simmered dishes, and you know that super smooth savoury steamed egg custard that comes piping hot in its own individual bowl and matching lid? Yes, Chawanmushi. It needs a very good dashi to make it delectable.

After making dashi, you could cook yourself a bowl of clear soup with the addition of the most minimal and simplest of ingredients. I made tofu and seaweed (wakame) soup only because I have a bag of wakame in my larder that I am trying to use up. You could choose to add a single ingredient such as some sliced mushrooms or a combination of ingredients. As this is a clear soup base, keep your choice of ingredients light and balance the flavours of your ingredients. You should still be able to taste the clean taste of the clear soup.

After the addition of miso (soy bean paste), the soup turns a little cloudy and you get miso soup. You can add slivers of meat in addition to vegetables to turn it into a one bowl meal or continue to keep it simple and just sprinkle some spring onions.

There are as many ways to make dashi as there are cooks. This is the way I make mine and I only make it from scratch on the rare occasion. More often than not, I am hard press for time and I reach out for my bottled instant dashi granules. You should not be surprised that a lot of Japanese restaurants do the same.

Dashi Stock For Japanese Clear Soups Or Miso Soups

Prep: 5 – 10 minutes 
Cook: 35 minutes if cooking from scratch
10 minutes if using instant dashi granules
Inactive: 30 minutes to soak the kombu/kelp
Level: Easy
Serves: 2
Oven Temperature:
Can recipe be doubled? Yes.
Make ahead? Kombu can be soaked in water overnight. Dashi can be kept refrigerated for a day.

Ingredients

For dashi stock
2 cups water
5″ (12.7cm) (0.17oz)(5 g) kombu/kelp*
1/3 loosely packed cup (0.17 – 0.21oz)(5 – 6g) bonito (tuna) flakes (katsuobushi)**
OR
Replace both kombu and bonito flakes with 1/2 – 1  teaspoon instant dashi granules.***
Others
1 to 2 Tablespoon miso*
1/3 block of tofu
1/2 Tablespoon wakame (dried or salt packed)/leftover kombu/kelp previously used for cooking Japanese short grained rice (recipe filed under, Salmon On Rice) or leftover kombu/kelp from cooking this soup.**
* Scroll Scroll down to ‘Tips” to find out more about this seaweed and where to purchase.
** You can find bonito flakes locally in most supermarkets. Look under the Japanese food aisle. Otherwise, look for it at Japanese or Asian grocery stores. It comes in larger bags or smaller ones like the ones pictured below. Store tightly bottled in the refrigerator.
*** 
It comes packed in sachets or bottles. I use the bottled one pictured below.  Saves a lot of time and it still taste good. Locally, you can find this in better stocked supermarkets. Look under the Japanese food aisle. Otherwise, look for it at Japanese or Asian grocery stores.
* Please scroll down to ‘Tips” to find out more about miso.
** For more information on wakame (dried and salt packed) and what to look for and where to purchase, please click here, Tomato Cucumber Seaweed Salad. 

Method

For dashi stock
1. Soak the kombu kelp in 2 cups of water for 30 minutes in a pot (that comes with a lid). You could also soak the kombu the night before.

2. Cover the pot, bring the water and kombu almost to a boil over medium heat.
3. As soon as it appears to begin boiling, remove the cover, reduce heat to medium-low to maintain a low simmer for 10 minutes.  Kombu turns bitter if you boil or simmer it for too long. So watch the time and remove kombu after 10 minutes.

4. Add the bonito flakes and turn off the heat. Let it sit uncovered on the burner for 10 minutes.

5. In the meanwhile, if you are reusing the kombu to serve it in the soup, slice them into slivers and set aside. If not, you can reuse it in my, Tomato Cucumber Seaweed Salad that comes mixed with a light salad dressing base of soy sauce, ginger and garlic.

6. After 10 minutes, the bonito flakes would have sunk to the bottom of the pot. Using a fine mash strainer, strain the stock. I discard the bonito flakes. There are some who keep it to make a weaker stock. I don’t feel any inclination to do so.

If you are adding wakame
1. Bring the stock to a boil. As soon as it comes to a boil, add the wakame. I do not reconstitute it as it will do just that in the soup stock.
2. At the same time, add the tofu. (Cut into cubes or cut it up roughly with a spoon). Once it returns to boil, turn off the heat and leave the pot on the burner.

If you are reusing kombu
1. Bring the stock back up to a boil. When it comes to a boil, add the tofu. (Cut into cubes or cut it up roughly with a spoon).
2. Once it returns to boil, turn off the heat and add in the shredded kombu.

If you want a clear soup
1. This is clear soup that you have made. Now taste and adjust seasoning. A little soy sauce and salt ? Serve immediately.

If you want miso soup
1. You turn off the heat before adding miso as boiling miso will result in a grainy tasting soup. Adding miso after the heat is turned off ensures a smooth tasting soup. The residual heat will be sufficient to warm the miso through and the soup will still be hot when you serve it.
2. To avoid lumps, using a strainer, work in 1 Tablespoon of miso with a spatula or spoon. Stir to mix in gently and taste to check seasoning.
3. Miso varies in saltiness, be conservative. You can always add more miso later if required. Serve immediately.

Tips

Kombu/Konbu (a variety of dried Japanese seaweed/kelp)

What is it?
This is not meant to be eaten as is. More often than not, it has to be rehydrated. It is a used to flavour dishes such as stews, rice, soups, sauces, etc to give it a umami flavour. A flavour that has been attributed to glutamate (one of many amino acids). You might be familiar with the artificially produced MSG? Monosodium glutamates is by the way synthesised from food. Glutamate is actually found naturally in virtually all food in varying degrees. Think cheeses, mushrooms, tomatoes, bacon. So now you know why some food taste extra yummy.

How to prepare for use?
To use kombu, do not wash. Wipe gently with a dry towel to remove any grit or sand. The white powder on it is a promise of flavour. Do not wipe it off. You can find kombu locally in most supermarkets. Look under the Japanese food aisle. Otherwise, look for it at Japanese or Asian grocery stores. I store my kombu in the refrigerator. It has to rehydrated before use.

Miso

Miso is essentially fermented cooked soy bean paste that has been mixed with salt and perhaps other ingredients such as rice and/or barley. The most common and widely available varieties are the ‘red’ miso and ‘white’ miso.

The ‘red’ is darker in colour, almost like a caramel colour and the ‘white’ paler in colour. The one featured in my image of ingredients above is white miso which I like for its more subtle taste. It does not matter which one you use as it is a personal preference.

As a rough guide, ‘red’ miso has a more assertive flavour as it has been left to ferment longer compared to ‘white’ miso. Another reason I choose to buy ‘white’ miso is, as I do not make miso soup often enough, I have to find other ways to use it up. The milder tasting ‘white’ miso is therefore good for using in salad dressings, marinades, sauces, etc. You can mix a little with mayonnaise to make an interesting sandwich spread for chicken, fish or tofu sandwiches. Locally, you can find this in better stocked supermarkets. More often found in the chiller sections. If not, look under the Japanese food aisle. Otherwise, look for it at Japanese or Asian grocery stores. Store miso covered in the refrigerator.

WHAT’S COMING UP NEXT?

Simmered Sweet Potato Slices In A Light Lemon Syrup. This would be an ideal dessert to end your Japanese meal. No one would complain if you decide to serve it as a snack instead.

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